Is STB's new tourism campaign shiok, or just silly?

The Singapore Tourism Board's latest marketing video centres on the Singlish expression for extreme pleasure, but response to it is mixed

First, Singapore was marketed as uniquely itself as a tourist destination. Then, it became yours. Now, it is "shiok" too.

The Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) latest marketing video on YouTube revolves around the Singlish expression - derived from the Malay word "syok", which means nice - for extreme pleasure. Cold ice kacang on a hot day? Shiok. The adrenaline rush of sky-diving? Shiok! Being massaged at a posh spa? Shhh...iok.

These are some of the scenes in the 21/2-minute video, produced in collaboration with British creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) and uploaded last month on STB's Your Singapore channel on the video- sharing website. At last count, the video at has attracted more than a million views.

While some are hailing the clip as a breath of colloquial fresh air, others are not exactly quivering with sheer bliss over it.

Branding expert Tim Clark, a Briton in his 60s, thinks "using the local language to help visitors to connect with a country is a good thing".

He adds: "I can remember when Singlish was banned from both advertising and programming on TV here. But like it or not, Singlish is a quaint reality which cannot be eradicated or ignored. It's part of Singapore's charm and appeal. Since you can't make it disappear, you may as well make the most of it."

The senior lecturer with Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Wee Kim Wee School of Communications, Division of Public and Promotional Communication, adds that he has seen the tactic used to market other destinations such as France and Australia. For example, in 2006, Australia used the phrase "So where the bloody hell are you?" in a tourism campaign which drew more brickbats than bouquets.

In the Singapore video, a Caucasian man struggling to pronounce "shiok" - defined helpfully on screen as "a Singaporean expression denoting extreme pleasure or the highest quality" - opens the clip. When he finally succeeds, his Singaporean friends applaud him.

Professor Gemma Calvert, a British professor at NTU's Institute for Asian Consumer Studies, agrees with Mr Clark that the video makes the featured foreigner struggling to pronounce "shiok" look "a bit of a shmuck".

She says: "The phrase isn't particularly difficult to pronounce and therefore may come across as slightly patronising to outsiders. As a Caucasian myself, I admit I cringed to some extent at the representation portrayed by this particular individual."

That said, Prof Calvert, 46, praises the video as an excellent promotional campaign: "I think the decision to highlight a uniquely Singaporean concept, 'shiok', is inspiring. Irrespective of how fluent anyone is in English, Singlish is still widely used by locals and residents to communicate feelings that are unique to the experience of living in Singapore."

Local branding professionals, such as Kilo Studio creative director Benjy Choo, agree. Mr Choo, 38, says: "I do think that the word 'shiok', as well as the use of Singlish, defines who we are as Singaporeans and I use it quite a bit myself."

However, he points out that the way the word is used in some parts of the video "seems far-fetched". "It begins to deviate from the actual meaning somewhere after the halfway point," he adds.

Creative director Hanson Ho, in his 30s, of H55 studio also notes: "'Shiok' is sometimes expressed somewhat artificially in certain scenes, making it seem quite unnatural."

For instance, having a little boy whisper "shiok" at the sight of zoo animals at the Night Safari seemed to be stretching it a little.

Mr Adrian Tan, 57, who heads the Ad Planet Group, Singapore's largest independent advertising group, is more critical of the video's art direction and videography, saying that it lacks "energy" and "excitement".

Creative director Theseus Chan of design agency Work also feels the video does not showcase anything new. Mr Chan, 52, says: "It is a reiteration of things done before. And the way that 'shiok' is depicted in the video is rather contrived. The effort to promote Singapore using a colloquialism is a weak one that non-Singaporeans find hard to identify with."

Similarly, some Singaporeans, such as community volunteer Robin Chua, are worried that the meaning of "shiok" would be lost on a foreign audience. Says Mr Chua, 60: "No matter how much Singaporeans love their Singlish, it is still not understood by the world at large. To the uninitiated, the meaning of 'shiok' is not immediately known or appreciated. So the impact is lost."

On the other hand, Mr Brian Patrick Tan, 33, found it "representative of what I would like to show my friends from out of town". The civil servant says: "It's more real and less of a glossy tourism promotion video. Using 'shiok' in an official video is also a pleasant surprise and, to me, is recognition of the authentic Singaporean identity."

Meanwhile lawyer Samantha Ong, 31, wonders if the video could have varied its local vocabulary a little. "There's a serious overuse of the word 'shiok' that's kind of cheesy and annoying," she says of the yelled, purred and breathed incarnations in the video.

"Aren't there other 'uniquely Singapore' words or ways to express pleasure, such as 'sedap' or 'ho chiak' (delicious in Malay and Hokkien)?"

What do you think of the Singapore Shiok video? E-mail

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.